IN DEPTH: It’s the cold case that still casts a chill in the spines of many in Perth and beyond, with at least three women believed to have been abducted just outside of busy bars and then murdered by a serial killer stalking Western Australia more than 20 years ago. But 2019 may be the year the Claremont Serial Killings are finally solved, with prime suspect, Bradley Robert Edwards, to face trial in May. However, he is just the latest in a long line of suspects that have been under the microscope for years. Charles Sturt University lecturer, Therese Taylor, takes an in-depth look at all the murky details of a case that continues to baffle many, despite justice for the victims and their families perhaps edging ever so closer.
More than 20 years ago, in 1996 and 1997, there were a series of disappearances of young women leaving nightclubs in the upmarket Perth suburb of Claremont. All had been socialising at or near the Ocean Beach Hotel, the Continental Hotel and Club Bayview. Three young women disappeared. Two bodies were found, in bushland on the outer perimeter of the city.
A special WA police taskforce, Macro, was founded and worked with great intensity, separate from all other police, to solve these crimes. Their efforts have been controversial, and as decades passed, many people have believed that the Claremont serial killer would never be found.
However, in December 2016, an arrest was finally made. Bradley Robert Edwards was charged with the murders of two of the Claremont murders, and assaults on other women.
This breakthrough was followed by more of the controversies and delays which have been a byword of the Claremont investigation. Edwards has now been in custody for two years. His trial is scheduled for 2019. It will be a judge only trial. Several aspects of the evidence are covered by suppression orders.
Bradley Edwards is entitled to a fair trial, and the presumption of innocence.
Before looking at the current trial, it is useful to consider the cases of the previous suspects who have been investigated by the Macro task force.
The first disappearance was of Sarah Spiers, an eighteen year old who was last seen at 2am on 27 January 1996. She left a Claremont nightclub and ordered a taxi from a phone booth. It arrived within minutes, but she had vanished. This event had several themes which would be seen again – girls socialising in night clubs, seeking taxis, and vanishing in a very short time frame, without witnesses.
The body of Sarah Spiers has never been found, but she is presumed dead.
Jane Rimmer vanished after drinking at the Continental Hotel in Claremont on 9 June 1996. She began the evening by socialising with a group of friends, but stayed on late, until after midnight, and then went outside alone, either to meet someone or to take a cab. It was a busy street, filled with people going in and out of the main doors to the hotel. But she disappeared, and no one saw whether she got into a vehicle. A month later, Jane Rimmer’s body was found in bushland in the outer suburb of Wellard.
The following year, on 14 March 1997, Ciara Glennon, a Perth lawyer, went for Friday night drinks with work colleagues at Claremont. She stayed until half past midnight, then left walking along the pavement as if looking to hail a cab. Some witnesses saw her stooping to speak to someone in a car. Then, both the car and Ciara were out of sight. Her body was found a month later.
Detailed maps of the area where the women disappeared were featured by the ABC early last year in an extensive story about the alleged murders.
After the disappearance of Ciara Glennon, public anxiety rose and the police, the media and the families of the missing girls were deluged with tips, theories and even messages of psychics. One example is that Neil Fearis, a lawyer who worked with Ciara, received a visit from a Perth GP, who claimed to have heard a story from an unnamed woman patient. According to this source, Ciara was being held by occult practitioners, and would be sacrificed at the equinox – the Easter long weekend – at a beach called The Spot, at Yanchep. Yanchep is in the outer region of Perth and was largely undeveloped bushland during the 1990s. This macabre story was investigated, and the female patient was put under surveillance. Nothing was found, and so this would appear to be yet another of the wild stories which arise in times of uncertainty.
However, when Caira Glennon’s body was found it was beside a track, at Pipidinny, Eglinton. This is fifty kilometres from central Perth, where she disappeared. It is a remote area, serviced by only one road – Pipidinny Road which runs from Yanchep to Eglinton. Mick Buckley, a private investigator hired by the Glennon family, was quoted in the Debi Marshall’s book Devil’s Garden as saying: “When they found Ciara’s body, she was only a few kilometres from Yanchep. That was, very, very odd.”
Themes and coincidences surround these tragic events. Each of the Claremont crimes took place on a long weekend on the Australian calendar – Australia Day, the Queen’s Birthday, and Labor Day. But 14 March – Labor Day is a public holiday only in the Eastern states, not Western Australia. As the police investigation progressed, the same individuals would come up in different roles, as property owners, acquaintances and business associates of the victims and the Claremont nightspots.
In 1998, the WA media became aware that the police task force had identified a suspect, and were openly tailing him whenever he left his house. This man, Lance Williams, was unmarried, had a history of depression, and lived with his parents. He had been observed driving around Claremont frequently, and had given a lift to an undercover policewoman. Although he dropped her off without incident, his presence in the area seemed suspicious.
Lance Williams agreed to provide police with a DNA sample, and he was also asked to sit for a lie detector test. This test would have no value as evidence before a court in WA, and was introduced by an American consultant. He failed the test, and soon both police and journalists were openly speculating about him as the chief suspect for the Claremont crimes.
The WA police were blatant in their suspicions of Lance Williams, and even suggested that the murders had stopped because they put him under such scrutiny. Police quoted in Devil’s Garden stated that there had been no further victims taken in Claremont and that “this supports an undeniable inference. Because he knows there has been such a high level of police scrutiny, his sense of self-preservation may have overridden any other desire or urge”.
The surveillance of Lance Williams went on and on. Years passed, and the case against him never advanced. His family say that in 2008 police told them informally that he was no longer a suspect. In February 2018, Lance Williams died of cancer.
It seemed that little was achieved through the investigation of Lance Williams, and the Taskforce Macro was accused of having too narrow a focus. The stories about this suspect, in the media, made it seem that he was typified as an eccentric individual – a loner with no social skills – who therefore lived up to a notion of what a serial killer might be.
One could also see, in the media attention paid to Lance Williams, that scrutiny made his every move seem suspect. According to a Sydney Morning Herald article written by David Reardon and published on November 28, 1998, when Williams said that he understood that the police had to do their job, and expressed no anger towards them, even this seemed suspicious:
A forensic scientist and former WA homicide detective, Mark Devenish-Meares, said people wrongly accused of a serious crime will almost always react with hostility towards police intrusion. “An innocent person will be angry and stay angry,” he said. “That is something very difficult to feign if you are guilty.”
Devenish-Meares said that overt surveillance had been used effectively in similar cases around the world. But the police strategy was not without risk.
“There is a fine line between the suspect cracking and confessing and him cracking and committing suicide,” he said. “Then we would never know if it was him and the civil libertarians would be jumping up and down about it.”
One of the civil libertarians who was jumping hard at this time was Peter Weygers. He was the Mayor of Claremont between 1985 and 1997, and also President of the West Australian Council for Civil Liberties. He criticised many aspects of the police response to the Claremont disappearances.
Peter Weygers was opposed to the police pursuit of Lance Williams, and also to their mass collection of DNA samples from Perth taxi drivers. Weygers pointed out that the storage of such materials could be problematic, and that civil liberties were better guaranteed if suspects were identified through evidence, then tested. He also asked if police had any workable DNA samples from the crime scenes, in order to make a comparison. This point has never been clarified, and it is possible that the situation has changed, in the course of the investigation, as scientific techniques have improved.
Peter Weygers then had his own turn in the role of suspect. In 2004, the WA police again took the unusual step of naming a suspect, outside of a trial or inquest. Peter Weygers was stated to be a person of interest by officers in the Macro task force.
The investigation created dramatic public scenes, reminiscent of the ways that attention had been previously drawn to Lance Williams. When police obtained a court order to take a DNA sample from Weygers, his car was stopped on the highway, and he was escorted away by multiple officers. His home was raided on 15 September 2004, and when the police arrived, the media were already there, cameras at the ready.
Peter Weygers had an unbreakable alibi for one of the Claremont murders, as he had been in a late-night council meeting at the time of the disappearance of Ciara Glennon. However, police were interviewing another man also – a taxi driver who was a lodger in a residence in the gardens of Weyger’s home. Therefore, in this line of enquiry, taskforce Macro was taking up the possibility that the Claremont killings were the work of two perpetrators working together. This possibility had often been aired by members of the public, but until then had not been given credence by police spokespersons, who previously had indicated that they were looking for a lone offender.
Lance Williams was meek and subdued. Peter Weygers was fiery and defiant. Neither made any impression on the juggernaut of suspicion which weighed them down for a decade. But no charges were laid.
The Macro taskforce has always maintained that the three Claremont crimes are linked, and that no other deaths are attributed to this offender. However, many people in Perth have suspected that the killings began earlier, and have not ended.
Julie Cutler, a young woman of twenty-two, had been at a staff party at the Parmelia Hilton in 1988. She left the party at around 12-30am on June 20 1988, and was never seen again. She was familiar with the Claremont area, and often drank there. Her car was found overturned in the ocean off Cottesloe beach two days later.
On June 29, 1991, eighteen year old Kerry Turner disappeared in the early hours of the morning at Victoria Park, Perth. She had been in a nightclub with friends, then left to take a taxi home. She did not have sufficient money for a fare, so the taxi left her at an all-night café, where she was seen getting into a car. Her body was found four weeks later in bushland at Canning Dam.
Another body was dumped, earlier, in this vicinity. Barbara Western was last seen on June 27, 1986, drinking at a hotel on the Albany Hwy, Perth. Her remains were found on 14 March 1991 near Canning Dam.
WA police have stated that this crime is regarded as not linked to the Claremont case. Kerry Turner’s family are not so sure, and point out the themes of late-night drinking, taxis, and the dumping of her body, which resemble the Claremont disappearances. It is also possible that these women were victims of David and Catherine Birnie, who are another notorious example of WA serial killers, and were arrested in November 1986.
The Birnies were certainly not responsible for the disappearance of Lisa Brown. Long after they were imprisoned, but shortly after the Claremont crimes, she disappeared off Palmerston St, Perth. Lisa Brown was nineteen-years-old, and has not been seen since 12.30am of 10 November 1998. Unlike the other disappeared women, she was a sex worker. Police believe that her death was linked to this, rather than the Claremont serial killer, but as this remains as an unsolved case, no one can say for certain. Another sex worker, Darylyn Ugle, also disappeared, in March 2003. Her decomposed body was found at Mundaring Weir, in April 2003.
In 2003, Donald Morey, a 63-year-old Perth man, was sentenced to 13 years in prison for the attempted murder of a sex worker. He lured the woman into his car, then, she told the court: “He calmly pulled his car over to the side of the road and he already had rope wrapped around his hand when he turned his car off.” The unnamed victim escaped after a violent struggle.
Many rumours surround his crimes, and Morey was also linked to women who were not sex workers. He was said to have been in a relationship with Sarah McMahon, although she was twenty-five years younger than him. Sarah McMahon is another of Perth’s disappeared women. She was 20-years-old and was last seen leaving her Claremont workplace on November 8, 2000. Donald Morey called her mobile phone twice on the day she vanished.
One former WA police officer has spoken out about these crimes, and has questioned Taskforce Macro’s secrecy and obsessive focus on singular suspects. Con Bayens served as a police officer for 26 years, and headed the prostitution unit. In 2000, he was part of an organised sweep, Operation Bounty, through Northbridge in Perth, which focused on sex workers and their clients. He has stated that he did not believe that Lisa Brown was killed by her pimp – a story proposed by WA police – because, he has said, sex workers on the street do not have pimps, but are highly disorganised and have terrible drug habits. They work for cash, and move around spontaneously.
Con Bayens has a disquieting story that during Operation Bounty he investigated a suspect who had called a sex worker to his car. Bayens described the suspect as having an air of authority, and good communication skills. As outlined in Debi Marshall’s book Devil’s Garden, the boot of his car was found to be lined with plastic, and to have “an arsenal of abduction weapons, zip ties, … scissors”. The suspect had: “completed a taxi driving course and done one shift. He was so hot as a possible Claremont suspect …”
In 2015, Con Bayens said that: “What I saw that night has haunted me for a lot of years.”
He states that he reported this to Taskforce Macro, and they told him not to worry about it, because: “We’ve got our man”. As Bayens concluded: “But as time was to tell, they had sweet fuck all”.
Investigative journalist, Estelle Blackburn, has written a study of earlier cases of serial killing in Perth, and then in 1997, found herself in a relationship with a man who was initially charming but then turned violent. Estelle Blackburn was assaulted, stalked and intimidated. She was, of course, not the only victim, and her assailant was later jailed for serious assaults on a subsequent partner. Blackburn has pointed out that this man had access to taxis, and disappeared for several days at the time of the first and second Claremont crimes. Estelle Blackburn’s experiences were the subject of a detailed documentary on the ABC programme, Australian Story.
In this program, Paul Wilson, criminologist and forensic psychologist, gave his opinion:
“If you look at this guy’s criminal record, then it’s horrific. It’s full of cases of threatening to kill, violence, stalking. I notice that a psychological report says that this man has an escalating pattern of violent offending which targets women. Most importantly the report says he shows, he has shown no remorse or empathy for his victims, but instead sees himself as a victim. This is a very, very scary offender who uses a great amount of violence and who escalates the amount of violence. He is one of the worst types of domestic violence offenders.”
Was he also the Claremont killer? There is no conclusive evidence. Whether or not Blackburn’s suspicions are well founded, her testimony shows how common is misogynistic violence. The program also suggest the links between different crimes, as the offender was also described as linked to drug dealing and thefts of jewellery.
On 20 November 2001, Susan Christie became another disappeared woman in Perth. At around 10.30pm, a neighbour saw a taxi drop her off at her flat in the suburb of Jolimont. Susan Christie was a middle-class woman, and in later court proceedings, she was described as having a reputation for heavy drinking and numerous sex partners. Her ex-husband was convicted of her murder, on circumstantial evidence, and this conviction was found to be unsound as was set aside. This remains as an unsolved case. She used to drink at the same bar, in Claremont, as Jane Rimmer.
The dark patterns of deaths and crimes against women link places and individuals in Perth. Nothing is known for certain, but in some cases, there are eerie coincidences.
In The Devil’s Garden, crime writer Debi Marshall points out that in the court proceedings for Susan Christie’s murder, one of the witnesses was a medical practitioner who sometimes visited her flat. The same man knew Sarah McMahon’s family, who had purchased their house from him, and consulted him in their grief after their daughter’s disappearance. This GP is also the man who, in 1997, had relayed the macabre allegation that Ciara Glennon was abducted to be an occult sacrifice at Yanchep.
In 2008, the WA Police revealed that camera footage of Jane Rimmer, on the night she disappeared, would be released.
The public were amazed to hear of this new evidence, being put before them for the first time, after so many years.
The footage is significant because it shows Jane leaving the Continental Hotel on the night she disappeared. Frustratingly, in the 20 second gap of the camera revolving, she vanished. In these last glimpses of the murdered young woman, she appears to be waiting for someone. She stands right on the edge of the curb, and looks down the street. She checks her watch. Is she waiting for a cab?
At one point, a man approaches Jane, and she appears to greet him. The expression on her face is of recognition, and she laughs. Then, he walks on. We only see this man from behind. He so precisely avoids the sweep of the security cameras, that one even wonders if he knows they are there. WA police are quoted as saying that everyone else in the footage has been traced, but not this person who speaks to Jane. Did he return with his car and pick her up? Or is he a completely innocent bystander?
The footage is chilling to watch.
W.A. Police had to justify why it took so long to put this evidence before the public, and why it was an exclusive on a commercial television channel. At the time of the announcement, the Sunday Times of Perth indignantly asked to be given the footage immediately, and were refused. They also asked if there was a deal: “Det-Sgt Stanbury denied that Foxtel, the Crime Investigation Network or producers Graham McNiece Productions had a contractual deal with WA Police for an exclusive story”.
Asked whether he believed it would have been better to use newspapers and free-to-air television to get new information from the public, Det-Sgt Stanbury said, “I don’t think so. … I think the documentary will put a lot of things into context for people — better than a blurb in the paper or a minute and a half on the news.”
Naturally, the Perth media, who have a larger local audience, did not like this.
A Trial at Last?
After official scrutiny of two ‘persons of interest’ and unofficial rumours about several others, the Claremont case went cold. For many years nothing was heard. Then, in December 2016, came the arrest of Bradley Robert Edwards.
It was announced that Edwards would be charged with the sexual assault of a woman who was dragged off the street into Karrakatta Cemetery, in 1995. This incident has often been mentioned in studies of the Claremont killings, as it took place a year before the disappearance of Sarah Spiers, and was near to where she was last seen.
However, Edwards was not initially charged in relation to Sarah Spiers. He was charged with murdering Jane Rimmer and Ciara Glennon – the two victims whose bodies have been found. It was not until February 2018 that he was charged with the murder of Sarah Spiers.
After the arrest, the media swarmed around the family and friends of Bradley Robert Edwards. Everyone was surprised by the charges, and he had a reputation as an ordinary person from an unremarkable family. There, was, however this mention:
The Edwards brothers attended Gosnells Senior High School, now Southern River College, a six minute drive away.
Mr Edwards’ graduating class of 1986 remembered nothing extraordinary about their five years of secondary school other than a fire which gutted the school gymnasium.
Little information has been made public, and it is not known why the prosecution has been delayed. It could be due to applications by either the defence or the prosecution. Some of the evidence is described as ‘sensitive materials’ and the prosecution has asked that anyone viewing them be made to sign in writing, so that no information would be leaked outside of the court proceedings.
Paul Yovich, who is Bradley Robert Edward’s defence lawyer, argued existing protocols for legal practitioners already provided adequate protection against trial evidence being leaked publicly and that any additional restrictions on the evidence would hinder Mr Edwards’ right to a fair trial.
This appears to be a complicated and unusual case.
It was also reported, in an official press conference in February 2018, that police still want to find a 1992 white Toyota Camry station wagon with vehicle identification number 6T172SV2109318479. The vehicle was deregistered a decade ago.
The latest news about the trial of Bradley Edwards, is that it is scheduled to begin in a few months time in May.
One can only hope for justice, at long last.